Tuesday, July 28, 2015

ILA Recap: Empowering ESL Students

I mentioned in my Five for Friday post that I went to the ILA conference in St. Louis.  There were lots of people who wanted more information.  Before I get started, I feel like I need to give some acronyms:

I started working on my ESL endorsement my first year of teaching-- back in 2004.  I feel like even though I have a decade of ESL education and practice, I still have a lot to learn.  One of my big goals in going to the International Literacy Association (ILA) conference was to learn more about how to reach all students.  I even signed up for the pre-conference "institute" related to "Empowering ELLs". I'm devoting this post to what I learned during this day.  I'll talk about other sessions later this week and next week.

I have to say this was the "worst" day of the conference for me.  I found it less engaging and inspiring than the other days.  So, if you feel the same after reading this blog post, don't give up on this series yet!

I felt like most of the day was mostly ideas I had already heard/ implemented.  But there were also some practical new ideas for engaging students in the classroom.

Close Reading for ELLs- It seemed like every session I went to had information about close reading and every session had a different model to follow.  One speaker said the model isn't the important thing.  The important thing about close reading is to reread with purpose for deeper meaning and understanding.  For ELLs, an additional purpose is to learn language, learn about language, and learn through language. 

1) The first reading should start with building necessary background knowledge-- not too much but enough for students to be able to access the text.  Then students should independently read and create "thick" and "thin" questions.(See here for a pretty awesome printable about this)  As a group/class, they research their unknown questions.  

2)Then, they pick just a small section (maybe just a sentence or paragraph) to "zoom in". The teacher/class reads and paraphrases each phrase.  Then for just this small section of text, do a grammar analysis.  I imagine this looking something like Jivey's Mentor Sentences.   

3)Next, the teacher picks one linguistical feature to focus on.  Some examples could be verb tense, metaphors, complex sentences, cause/effect language, writer's craft, or putting events in sequence (especially when out of order like flashbacks/ flashforwards).  This should be something difficult in the text that will benefit them when they read other texts.  Even for grammar instruction, the focus should be the meaning of the text.  Grammar knowledge is just a tool to aide in comprehension. 

4) Finally, students play with the text by imitating that linguistical feature.  There are many ways to do this and it depends on the focus linguistical feature.  Stretch a sentence is just one example. 

Landforms- Source
Storytelling- Source

Use Playdough as realia- I have done this before when we have studied landforms and erosion.  Students used the playdough to create different landforms and act out examples of erosion.  I think this could be expanded though.  One suggestion was to use the playdough as a pre-writing activity.  Have students use playdough to act out a story and then write about it. Another suggestion was to use it as a review of content knowledge, especially before writing.  Above I collected some of these ideas in use-- these are not my pictures but ones I found on Pinterest.  The list goes on and on!  What other Playdough ideas do you have? 


Funds of Knowledge-  This is not a new idea to me but is a new term.  Every family has a "fund" of knowledge.  They have a distinct set of skills and background knowledge they bring to school.  For example, we had a farm growing up.  I went to school knowing lots about lambs, chickens, and cows.  I didn't know a lot about skyscrapers though.  Go out of your way to acknowledge and honor these funds of knowledge.  Give students a chance to be an expert on something.  Invite families in to share their knowledge.    Get to know your kids and walk a mile in their shoes.  Most importantly, have high expectations for all your students and work with them and their families to meet these expectations. 


Variety of Social Arrangements- The more types of conversations and the more conversation partners a student has, the more proficient the student will be as a speaker and as a listener.  Mix it up by pairing same native language speakers and different native language speakers other times.  Use older ELLs as tutoring buddies for younger students.    Have lots of oral activities.  Look into Kagan structures for organizing these interactions.  Teach students how to have conversations.  Create sentence frames to combat possible hurtful language.

Non-Verbal Processes-  Everyone has 2 separate systems of information-- verbal and non-verbal.  For ELLs, there are two (or more) language systems in the verbal area.  The more connections you have between the 2 systems, the easier and deeper the processing.  Graphic organizers are one way to access both systems.  Another way to strengthen these connections is to draw attention to them through questioning.


Some random resources that I don't know enough about to recommend but I want to look into more so please share what you know:

Word Generation- a FREE program for grades 4-8 to teach and promote academic language

NovoEd- A free non-credit college class from Stanford

Book Creator App- Example where students created print books and then recorded the reading to create a digital book. 

 Whew!  This post took about an hour longer than I thought it should!  I hope you found things you can use.  Please let me know what was useful/not useful so I can improve future ILA recaps.  I will hopefully be back tomorrow to talk about Day 2 of #ILA15. 


  1. I have never heard the term "fund of knowledge" before either, but it's so true. I agree that we must have HIGH expectations for all of our students. Great post!

    1. I am so glad you liked the post. It's a lot but there was so much covered each day!

  2. Look up and study Word Generation - It's amazing and can be an awesome cross-curricular focus that builds background knowledge for kids!

  3. It does look great and thought of several units that I could integrate it with. (I like to teach about a unit ahead of the classroom teachers so my kids have that little preteaching boost).